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Al Qaeda calls for foreign kidnappings in Afghanistan

SYDNEY (Reuters) - A senior al Qaeda official has called on the Taliban to kidnap foreign civilians in Afghanistan to force U.S.-led forces to negotiate prisoner exchanges, a former Australian police counter-terrorism analyst said.

Taliban fighters train with their weapons in an undisclosed location in Afghanistan July 14, 2009. REUTERS/Stringer

The directive has been issued by veteran al Qaeda adviser Mustafa Hamid, also known as Abu Walid al Masri, and stems from the U.S. detentions in Guantanamo Bay, Leah Farrall told Reuters on Wednesday.

Farrall, who had worked for the Australian Federal Police, said she had found the al Qaeda internet document, written in late July, while completing a PhD on al Qaeda at Monash University in Australia.

The document, “The U.S. Soldier in Afghanistan - the first step for the release of all prisoners of the war on terror,” argues the capture of a U.S. soldier earlier this year should serve as a precedent in a campaign of abducting Western civilians to negotiate the release of Taliban and al Qaeda prisoners.

Farrall said the document rallies against the U.S. treatment of Guantanamo Bay prisoners and calls on the Taliban to treat their enemy the same, citing examples of kidnapping campaigns by Hamas and Hezbollah.

But whereas some al Qaeda kidnappings have led executions, Hamid does not call for hostages to be harmed.

“He does not speak about executing prisoners at all. It’s all about hostage taking and holding the hostages and negotiating. There is nothing about what to do with them if negotiations fail,” Farrall said.

“He also talks about using the bodies of dead servicemen and pretending that they are still alive. He certainly does not advocate killing at all,” she said, adding that Hamid had, until now, been regarded as a moderate voice in al Qaeda.

Six weeks after his directive was released, New York Times journalist Stephen Farrell and his Afghan colleague were kidnapped in Afghanistan. British journalist Farrell was freed, but his colleague was killed in a rescue raid in early September.

Farrall said the capture of the journalist suggests the Taliban may be considering Hamid’s advice as he is very close to Taliban leaders Mullah Mohammad Omar and Jalaluddin Haggani.

In the document Hamid said he fought alongside Haggani in the Afghan-Soviet war and personally delivered Osama bin Laden’s oath of allegiance to Omar, said Farrall.

Australia’s Ambassador for Counter-Terrorism Bill Paterson said that while kidnapping campaigns had been used by al Qaeda, militants in north Africa and the Philippine’s Abu Sayyaf rebels, it was unclear whether the Taliban would adopt such a tactic.

“The Taliban learn from al Qaeda and possibly vice versa,” Paterson told Reuters in Sydney.

“But the Taliban are their own people and there is some evidence that some in the Taliban see al Qaeda in their midst in rural Afghanistan and Pakistan as intruders and foreigners.”

Hamid has been detained in Iran since 2003 but remains an influential figure in the militant movement and maintains contact with his followers through jihadist websites, said Farrall.

The document calling for kidnappings of Westerners first appeared on an internet source page Farrall has been tracking for several years, but has since been posted widely on al Qaeda forums.

Farrall said she wrote about the document in an article in The Australian newspaper on Wednesday because of concerns other militant groups may see it as a call to kidnap Westerners.

“It has been posted on the forum that is used for al Qaeda strategic communications,” Farrall said. “Prior to this his work had had a fairly limited distribution.”

“My concern is this document has now gone out to wide readership of groups with different agendas, who may take the idea but not necessarily take the precautions of looking after the hostages and holding them.”

Editing by Tomasz Janowski